SEO Tips Part One: How we learned what not to do
DISCLAIMER: The purpose of these SEO tips is not to encourage you to fire your search engine optimization pro. These experts are wizards at coming up with a formula for combining these words in that way to win the traffic you need. But sometimes, the cryptic processes built around SEO and search engine algorithms are just over-thinking a simple concept.
I’ve been doing this a long time. I was one of those first generation ecommerce people, trying to find my way before the term “ecommerce” was widely used. We were building websites, writing HTML, selling things online… it was a wild ride.
And all we wanted to do was show up at the top of search engine listings. The holy grail? Find a simple term (preferably a single word) that’s broadly used to describe what you sell. Own a spot in the top three search results for it. Stay there. And everyone else who’s even vaguely in your space is scrapping to do the same.
We were super geeky little jerks. We understood some piece of this wondrous new world that our bosses treated like indecipherable hieroglyphics. We were rock stars and trail blazers. And the search engines? Yeah, there were tons of them back then. And we had strategies for how to game them all!
We did the dumbest things…
Put lots of search terms at the bottom of your page, over and over again, and make the text the same color as your background so humans wouldn’t be assaulted by it but search engines would think you had gobs of “relevant” content.
Create piles of “doorway pages” or “gateway pages” – essentially, bogus home pages, each with their own domain name (cleverly comprised of key words with dashes between them) and just link from those home pages into our site – because the search engines will think they’re all tons of different websites all focused on those single ideas, and directing traffic to our categories.
Use software to analyze our landing pages so we can spit out 6 versions of each (for Yahoo, Google, Alta Vista, MSN, Lycos, HotBot…) because in those days there was no Bing and Google didn’t yet run the universe. And – get this – search engines published layman’s versions of their algorithms! We knew (I’m making it up now but close enough) that a page optimized for the key phrase “gourmet food” needed to have the phrase in the title tag just once to make MSN happy, and twice for Google… and the on-page content varied even more. If we didn’t use it enough, this engine wouldn’t rank the page. If we used it too much, another engine would decide we were spamming and bust us down or blacklist us. Hence… gobs of pages, all the same but for those tweaks.
We even resorted to link sharing!
Once we learned that the search engines cared how many links there were to your site, we figured we’d all do each other a solid, and groups cropped up that you could join – all you had to do was publish a page on your site somewhere that linked to all the other members (literally, one giant, ugly list of unrelated links) and update it monthly with new members. Then all the other members did the same, and you magically had tons of backlinks!
When those failed, we thought we could just spam all the forums with bogus “I love this product/site/service” posts that linked back to our sites. Eventually, Google cracked down hard on the quality of backlinks, and a lot of sites suffered!
As search engines evolved, got wise, died out, or became bent on world domination, each of these tactics was systematically defeated. No sooner did we all get a handle on a “trick” than the engines would update their algorithms, call it spamming, and send us into a whirlwind of damage control.
I’d like to say that we all learned something – that no one freaks out anymore over every little change to the algorithms – but so many SEOs still fight this uphill battle.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment when I provide actionable steps you can follow to create great content that is search engine optimized, healthy, and won’t incur Google’s wrath next time they do an update!